Operation Online Records
7/13/2010
Join the march to search out military records on the Web.
Just about everyone has a relative who answered Uncle Sam's call to arms, and the resulting records rank right up there as one of the best genealogical sources you can get: Military service papers and pension applications tell you details about a soldier's life, his family members, and the time and places he served. Those who didn't join up still might appear in draft registration records or a relative's pension application.

But some of these records haven't been easy to get — requiring renting (and then waiting for) microfilm from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) or the Family History Library. Entire collections, such as Civil War pensions, aren't yet microfilmed, and you have to visit NARA in Washington, DC, or pay (through the nose, some might say) to order paper copies by mail. To rectify the situation on a tight budget, NARA has turned to partnerships with other organizations — notably Ancestry.com , Footnote and FamilySearch — which have digitized, indexed and posted thousand of records. And these and other sites, such as HeritageQuest Online, already had images of military records from NARA microfilm and books of muster rolls.

With this confusing array of online options, how do you know whether you still have to order records by mail or if they're on the Web? And what site should you start with? Our maneuvers will help you navigate to genealogical records from the Revolutionary War through the Vietnam War.